The Barrett Art Center mounted the one-person exhibit Ransome: The View From Here, showing a recent body of work from James Ransome. The spare exhibit encompassed 12 paintings, most of them of a generous size where it was advisable to stand back and take in all the details of the artworks before moving in close to examine details.
Outside the gallery entry Ransome provided his artist statement that stated that: “One of the things though, that has always afflicted the American reality, and the American vision, is this aversion to history. History is not something you read about in a book – history is not even the past – it’s the present. Because everyone operates, whether or not we know it, out of assumptions which are produced, and produced only by, our history.”
Ransome has created a narrative history of life grounded in being a Black person in America. Bounded by the past, but looking at the future, Ransome makes paintings that revere the artistic brilliance of Black persons that have taken this path. He references the work of Kerry James Marshall, a Black American artist that has dedicated his art career to depicting the lives of Black persons in their everyday life, as well as the quilters of Gee’s Bend, a collective of Alabama quilters who went on to exhibit their work at the Whitney Museum of American Art and beyond.
In a nod to this history, Ransome has used the design thinking of quilts as collage in many of these works. In the painting, “Quilt Folks,” the artist has composed the painting into three horizontal strips – the top two contain various papers collaged to create the feeling of a variety of quilt designs as seen in the work of the Gee’s Ben quilters. At the bottom of the artwork is what appears to be a parade of Black people, perhaps signifying that in that small Alabama community of Gee’s Bend, nearly everyone was a master quilt maker. Ransome uses scraps of papers, some that have been overpainted, to mimic the quilter’s bold designs. The gallery contains several paintings on corrugated cardboard, in a nod to the quilters who made their quilts out of worn everyday clothing.
In the painting, “Who Should Own Black Art,” viewers will see two figures posing proudly besides a large replica of Kerry James Marshall’s painting, “When Frustration Threatens Desire.” The painting within the painting has been slightly altered, with the black cat jumping into the foreground with the living humans. Ransome has referenced the question that has become key to the dialogue of art – who should be able to own original artworks? And in this particular instance, who gets to own artwork created by Black artists who have achieved fame?
The Ransome exhibit, “The View From Here,” was on exhibit October 10-November 14, 2020 at the Barrett Art Center: 55 Noxon Street, Poughkeepsie
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This article is an edited version originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Lifestyle, Sunday, November 1, 2020.
Photographs were courtesy of the artist Ransome, who reserves all rights over the images.